Everything You Need to Know About Moving Safely During the Coronavirus Pandemic—If You Must

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‘I Closed On My Home Sale During the Coronavirus Crisis’

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

When Doreen Smith listed her house in Castle Rock, CO, in February, the coronavirus was on her radar, but didn’t seem like a serious problem at the time.

“COVID-19 was on my mind because I teach high school social studies, and we’d discuss it when talking about current events,” says Smith. “But I certainly didn’t think that this would be something to have to consider when selling my home.”

When Smith was about to list her home, she asked her real estate agent if she should be worried about selling because it was an election year. Her agent assured her that January 2020 had been a terrific month for home sales. So Smith decided to move ahead and put her house on the market on Feb. 27.

“It was supposed to be a gorgeous, sunny weekend, so we put the ‘For Sale’ sign in my yard on Wednesday to be ready for my home to hit the MLS on Thursday,” Smith recalls. “My agent immediately started getting calls, including one on Wednesday night. I had five showings on Thursday, and I got three offers Friday morning.”

Smith decided to sell to a couple who lived in California.

“When I took their offer, it came with the contingency that they must be able to sell their home in order to buy mine,” Smith says. “I accepted the contingency because their house was already under contract, through inspection, and had a closing date of March 23.”

So Smith planned to move out on that same day, and move in temporarily with her sister in nearby Littleton, CO, while shopping for a condo. (Both of her boys were out of the house, so she was downsizing.)

All went according to schedule at first. However, in the ensuing weeks as news (and cases) of COVID-19 swept the nation, Smith saw much of what she knew about her home closing change.

Here’s how she survived closing a home sale during this pandemic—and what she learned in the process.

Why the coronavirus can delay closings

On March 23—the day of her scheduled closing and move—Smith got a call from her agent telling her there was a potential snag.

“Around 9:10 a.m. I got a text from my real estate agent: ‘Hi! Are you home?’ I texted ‘Yes! Movers are here, hope this is still a go?’ with a nervous emoji. Two seconds later I got a call,” says Smith. “My buyer’s buyer in California had a tax issue with their property and needed some form from the IRS. The IRS said due to the coronavirus, they were delayed in response times, and were not able to get the letter in time for their scheduled Monday closing.”

This snafu led to Smith and her buyer amending their contract to extend the closing by two weeks, and making it official with an electronic signature. So now she was set to close on April 7, but still moving on March 23.

Although Smith’s move went smoothly, more paperwork delays caused her closing to hit another snag, bumping her closing date to April 10. But the paperwork was procured faster than planned, and the closing date moved again, to April 8.

“Apparently my buyers were really frustrated, as they were homeless and all of their stuff was on a moving truck with no house,” says Smith. “At this point I was just trying not to freak out.”

Inside a ‘drive-through’ closing

When closing day finally arrived on April 8, Smith braced for more changes—and they arrived right on schedule. For instance, while most home closings involve all parties gathering to sign paperwork, the coronavirus had upended this tradition, too.

“Because of the crisis, real estate agents were not supposed to attend closings in order to minimize exposure to all parties,” says Smith. Furthermore, “the governor of Colorado had also passed a law saying that virtual closings were acceptable at this time. But my lender, like many, said no way. Lenders were trying to be careful about who they loaned money to.”

So, rather than conduct a virtual closing, Smith ended up doing the next best thing: a “drive-through closing.” She was told to drive to the title company’s parking lot, then call the title agent inside, who popped out of her office building wearing a mask and walked toward Smith’s car.

Smith (who was wearing a bandana mask) cracked her car window to hand her ID to the title agent. After verifying Smith’s ID, the title agent handed Smith a clipboard with the paperwork and a blue pen in a plastic bag.

The title agent told Smith to take her time and sign the highlighted sections of the paperwork. If Smith had any questions, she was urged to call her real estate agent, who was also keeping an eye on her phone in case there were any issues.

“It took me about 10 minutes to sign everything,” Smith says. “Then the title agent came back and reviewed everything while I remained in my car, and while we chatted about how strange this all was. The agent admitted they’d only been doing ‘drive-through’ closings for a week. The reason the title company required someone to show up in person was they wanted the seller’s account information of where they’d wire the money delivered in person—I assume that’s to avoid mistakes for the transfer of such a large amount.”

Despite this strange setting, the money was immediately wired to Smith and her sale was finally finished.

Now settled in at her sister’s home, Smith is going to hold off on looking for a condo for now.

“I asked my real estate agent when we could start hunting; she said maybe June,” says Smith. “But I am getting my mortgage pre-approval paperwork completed this week, so I am ready to buy when we are up and running again.”

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Settle In With Our 11-Step Game Plan for Unpacking Your Move

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By: Holly Amaya

Few things are more stressful than packing up the contents of your entire home—except, that is, unpacking that intimidating labyrinth of boxes, bags, and bundles once you’ve landed in your new place.

But with a little organization (and maybe a lot of wine) you can make the experience a lot more efficient and—dare we say—enjoyable. Read on for our expert-approved game plan for unpacking your move. (Hint: It starts before you say sayonara to your old house.)

1. Before you ship out, pack a ‘Day 1’ box

Save yourself the stress of wondering where your footie pajamas, contact solution, and phone chargers might be, and pack a “Day 1” box of essentials that’ll get you through your first 24 to 48 hours in your new place.

“It may take a few days or even weeks at your new home before you get comfortable,” explains relocation expert Bill Mulholland of ARC Relocation Services. “Pack a bag of essential items for each person in your family so you’re not digging through boxes— and include toiletries, medicine, and clothing for the first few days.”

Pro tip: Make sure your Day 1 bag holds a few box cutters; you’ll need them to make the task of opening dozens of boxes more tolerable.

Professional organizer Darla DeMorrow of HeartWork Organizing recommends the following technique: “Cut with an ‘H’ motion,” she says. “Cut one side, then the other side, then the long strip down the middle while you lift it up slightly. Using this technique, you won’t accidentally cut into the items inside the box.”

2. Prep your new place

Create a clean canvas at your new place, preferably the day before your stuff arrives, DeMorrow recommends. Make sure the floors are spotless, wipe down the cabinets, lay shelf paper (if that’s your thing), and be sure you have extra furniture dollies if necessary.

3. Have the movers wait while you take stock

We know you’re probably raring to go, but before you dismiss your moving crew, give everything a once-over.

“Don’t sign anything from the movers or shipping company until you inspect the packages,” says home organization expert Christina Harmon.

We know this sounds like a total pain, but it’s well worth it. “Once you sign, you’re accepting their state of delivery,” Harmon points out.

4. Do a load of laundry

As soon as you cross the threshold of your new place, throw your towels and bed linens in the washing machine so they’re ready for your inaugural new-house shower and sleep.

5. Set up your bed

It might be tempting to start unpacking in the kitchen or den—after all, those places are where you do the most living. But experts agree it’s best to start where you sleep. Set up your bed with fresh linens so you’ll have a comfy place to rest after unpacking. If you can’t find your bed frame or can’t deal with putting it together on Day 1, it’s fine to put your mattress on the floor for the time being.

6. Purge

This should be done before you move. But if you didn’t take the time to purge before packing up your old home, start a donation pile now so your junk doesn’t find a permanent space in your new home. If you haven’t listened to that Paul Wall CD in 10 years or worn your high school letterman jacket since the ’90s, you probably won’t do either now.

7. Create an ‘elsewhere bin’

DeMorrow recommends creating an “elsewhere bin” in the room when you unpack.

“You might decide that the candlelighter, which lived in the kitchen in the old house, should really go in the living room in the new house,” she says. “Save a few steps and park it in the elsewhere bin until you are ready to head to another room.”

Similarly, group unused organizing gadgets together and move them along as you unpack.

8. Unpack the kitchen

Ordering in Chinese and pizza every day gets awfully old awfully fast. “You need to set up your kitchen so you can use it,” Harmon says.

Unpack the items you use daily, starting with cutlery; pros recommend stashing your knives, forks, and spoons in the first drawer to the right of your sink or dishwasher. (You might want to reverse that if you’re left-handed.)

Store your plates, cups, and glasses at eye level or lower, preferably close to your sink or dishwasher. Stash pots and pans near the stove—don’t forget lids—and place heavier items such as cast-iron skillets or small kitchen appliances as close to the floor as you can.

9. Attack the bathroom

In the bathroom, start with your shower curtain, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, and clean towels. You can unpack your other bathroom gear later.

10. Throw perfection out the window

Loosely arrange each room by placing large, already-assembled items where you think they should go, Harmon says. If your artwork and personal photographs are available (read: not packed in boxes), lean them against the wall where you think you might want them and let it simmer a day or two before you start installing.

“I’m not a big fan of being overly meticulous about layout in advance—I think it’s overkill and a waste of time,” she says. “See if you like how things feel in that room and move on to the next room. You can adjust later.”

11. Leave the garage for last

Don’t kill yourself trying to unpack your garage and storage spaces overnight. They’re typically pass-through portions of the home where you won’t spend much time, so you can take your time getting organized. And if you’re anything like us, your garage is usually a repository of half-finished projects, bicycles, and kids’ toys. You’ll be back there soon enough.

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Purge Your Home of These 9 Things Before You Move

By: Jamie Wiebe

A new home means a fresh start: new paint, a new bedroom, even a fresh take on arranging your old furniture.

But your new space won’t feel so wonderful if it’s weighed down with junk you didn’t bother ditching during the move. Now’s the time to purge your home—and we’re not talking about just sifting through stacks of magazines while you binge on Netflix.

“Your possessions should have three purposes: function, aesthetic purpose, or sentimental value,” says Christina Giaquinto, a professional organizer in Franklin Lakes, NJ. “Pick up each item in your home, and ask yourself, ‘Why do I have this item? What does this item do for me?’”

From doodads you picked up at the flea market to jewelry you never wear to a pile of untouched cat toys, there are a lot of things you should toss or donate before packing up the truck. But here are nine of the most common offenders.

1. Old towels and linens

When’s the last time you bought new towels? If it’s the last time you moved, turn those suckers into rags and buy something new. After years of use and hundreds of washings, there’s no denying your fluffy bath towels have lost some of their plushness.

Ditch old bed sheets, too. Fitted sheets lose their elasticity over time, and exposure to sweat and oil can cause unpleasant stains.

2. Your juicer

We all have goals. Running three times a week. Cleaning every Sunday. And starting each morning with a glass of cold juice pressed from spinach, kale, ginger, and pineapple.

Don’t give up on achieving your dreams—but if you’ve tried to make a change and found it didn’t work with your lifestyle, don’t hang on to the dregs of disappointment. Maybe getting up a half-hour early every morning to juice isn’t for you. Assess your achievements at moving time, and donate everything that didn’t work out. At least you’ll have room for your next wild aspiration. Perhaps a set of dumbbells?

3. Unworn clothes

Organizing a closet before a move should be simple. A keep pile, a toss pile, and a donate pile—right? But we all have those jeans we keep around just in case we finally lose 15 pounds. Or a dress tucked deep in your closet in case you ever go clubbing again. (Never mind that the last time you were out of the house after 10 p.m. was the night your first child was born.)

Watch out for clothing you’re keeping “just in case,” which take up precious room in your closet. And even if you do lose the weight, or get an invitation to a bachelorette party in Vegas, you can always buy (or rent) something new—and we bet you’ll love it even more.

4. Duplicates and souvenirs

Clutter accrues in the strangest places—like your mug tree or your dining hutch. You might have started out with two novelty mugs, but now you own a coffee cup from every place you’ve visited. Ever.

“Try to keep only one from your favorite vacation,” Giaquinto says.

Look for duplicates throughout your kitchen. Do you really need three bread pans? Or more than one cake platter?

“You should only hold on to what can fit neatly in your space,”  Giaquinto says.

5. Collections you’ve outgrown

One day, many moons ago, you told your mom you liked elephants. You were 12.

Your next birthday: an elephant necklace. Your graduation gift: a porcelain elephant statuette. Your housewarming gift from your aunt: an Etsy elephant print.

It’s too late to convince everyone you’re not a loxodonta-phile, but it’s not too late to trim down your collection. And when Mom stops by and looks confused, just say, “I had to. I couldn’t fit it into our new space.”

6. Cosmetics and toiletries

Like most things in life, skin and beauty products don’t last forever. So before you move, ditch the pile of half-used products you’ve amassed under your bathroom sink; that goes for skin creams, sunscreens, shaving cream, beard oils, deodorant, and even soap.

Ladies—make sure to toss the nail polish.That stuff has a shelf life of only two years, meaning you’ll likely never finish a bottle before the polish gets gunky and hard to apply.

Same goes for cosmetics: For example, you should replace your favorite mascara every three months. Otherwise, you risk exposing your eye to contaminants and air particles.

7. Space fillers

Sometimes, when moving into a new home, we buy stuff just to fill the emptiness. Ugly side tables, a TV stand three shades darker than the rest of your furniture, or that annoying inspirational wall art that’s long past being cool (if it ever was).

Your next home doesn’t need to be a blank slate, but do yourself a favor before moving in by ditching furniture and decor you’re “meh” on. And next time, buy slowly and ponder exactly what you want before plunking down cash.

8. Cords and cables

You don’t know how it happened, but suddenly you have 34 micro-USB cables and seven random charging cables that seemingly belong to nothing and everything at the same time.

Save yourself from future headaches, and get rid of duplicates now—as well as anything that doesn’t have a match. And take advantage of the move to sort the remaining cords and cables into an organized system.

9. Paperwork

Go through all your old paperwork, setting aside documents you should keep (tax records, closing documents, recent bank statements) and ditching everything that’s no longer necessary—like old insurance policies. Create a filing system you’ll stick to, since that paperwork’s gonna keep coming, and promise yourself you’ll go back through everything once a year.

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